At last, Paso gets rate increase

Paso Robles’ multi-year saga in securing a new rate plan to pay for its share of the Nacimiento Water Project may have ended Friday because no one formally protested it by Friday’s deadline.

The city has tried five times over several years to increase the rates so it can start paying for the water this summer without going into its dwindling reserves.

The new rates — part of a flat-rate structure that charges everyone the same per-gallon — are now finalized and expected to show on customers’ water bills beginning Jan. 1.

The newest and final plan increases rates from $1.32 to $2.50 per unit of water — or 748 gallons. Rates then increase gradually in subsequent years before reaching $4.40 per unit in 2015.

The $18 fixed fee that appears on bills now will also be dropped.

The public had 30 days from the City Council’s unanimous approval of the new uniform rates in April to protest them. At least 10 percent of Paso Robles’ registered voters needed to sign a protest, according to law, to force the council to rescind the last round of approved rates or call an election.

Last year, Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles did just that — ultimately leading the city into a roughly $70,000 election measure in November that rejected a previous set of rates.

This time, though, the citizens group didn’t file a signature petition with the city by the 5 p.m. Friday deadline, City Manager Jim App said.

Instead, the group is likely pursuing legal action against the city.

In a statement to The Tribune, Concerned Citizens spokesman John Borst said he believes the city is required to wait a year after the November election before adopting a new rate increase.

Because it didn’t, legal action may ensue through his Southern California-based lawyer, Paul Heidenreich.

City Attorney Iris Yang said that while the law says you can’t adopt the same “or virtually the same” ordinance within a year, the newest rate “is different, and the methodology for calculating the charge is different.”

After the new rates kick in, the city can then pursue plans to build a plant to make the new lake water drinkable. Starting this summer, Paso Robles will have to start paying for the new water without being able to use it until that plant is built.